ORLANDO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – A 2014 Food and Drug Administration Safety Communication warning about the risk of disseminating occult cancerous tissue when using power morcellation led to a sharp decline in its use among physicians in a large health care system, a survey and records review showed.

Survey responses indicated that the reaction to the communication, which specifically warned against power morcellation for hysterectomy or myomectomy for uterine fibroids, was driven far more by fears of litigation than by concerns about the safety of power morcellation.

Of 126 ob.gyns. in the Charlotte, N.C., metro area who received the 24-question e-mail survey, 58% responded, and while 75% reported that they always or sometimes used power morcellation prior to receiving the FDA communication, more than 80% reported rarely or never using it after receiving the communication, Gerald Bernard Taylor, MD , reported at the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons.

Fear of litigation was cited as the reason for the change in practice by 45.7% of ob.gyns., followed by lack of access to power morcellators (34.7%), and concerns about undiagnosed malignancy (11.8%) and patient safety (5.7%), said Dr. Taylor of the Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte.

“We also heard from physicians about the guidelines,” he added, referring to informed consent protocols developed by a group of “key opinion leaders in gynecologic oncology and minimally invasive gynecology.” Many institutions developed moratoriums against the use of power morcellation in the wake of the FDA communication, but the Carolinas HealthCare System chose to commission these opinion leaders to address the issue, he explained.

“Interestingly enough, some [survey respondents] were not aware that the guidelines were available. Most (74.6%) thought that they were helpful when they actually reviewed them, and a few said that they were not helpful,” he said, noting that most of those who found the guidelines helpful said they felt that way because the guidelines “provide a standard of care and a possible defense against litigation.”

Analyses with respect to changes in practice after the FDA communication are ongoing but suggest that changes occurred mainly in the approach to myomectomies rather than in hysterectomy routes, Dr. Taylor said.

“We’re looking to see if there was increased use of minilaparotomy, and we are looking at the use of concealed morcellation bags right now,” he said.

The FDA Safety Communication was issued April 17, 2014 and stated that power morcellation used for hysterectomy or myomectomy in women with uterine fibroids “poses a risk of spreading unsuspected cancerous tissue, notably uterine sarcomas, beyond the uterus.”

“Health care providers and patients should carefully consider available alternative treatment options for symptomatic uterine fibroids. Based on currently available information, the FDA discourages the use of laparoscopic power morcellation during hysterectomy or myomectomy for uterine fibroids,” the communication stated.

A Nov. 24, 2014 update stated that “laparoscopic power morcellators are contraindicated for removal of uterine tissue containing suspected fibroids in patients who are peri- or postmenopausal or are candidates for en bloc tissue removal, for example, through the vagina or minilaparotomy incision,” and “in gynecologic surgery in which the tissue to be morcellated is known or suspected to contain malignancy.”

The update also urged manufacturers of new and existing laparoscopic power morcellators to include the contraindications and a boxed warning in their product labeling and recommended that doctors share the information with their patients.

On Dec. 24, 2017, the FDA issued an updated assessment reinforcing their earlier communications. This latest update was based on a review of recent medical studies that, according to the FDA, suggested that “approximately 1 in 225 to 1 in 580 women who undergo surgery (hysterectomy or myomectomy) for presumed benign uterine growths (‘fibroids’) may have ‘occult’ or hidden uterine cancers known as sarcomas.” The FDA also said that “this is generally consistent with the 1 in 350 incidence estimated by the FDA in a 2014 review. The FDA also estimates the rate of occult leiomyosarcoma, a particularly aggressive type of sarcoma, to be approximately 1 in 495 to 1 in 1,100, again in general agreement with our previous assessment of 1 in 498.”

The FDA acknowledged that some health organizations have reported a lower estimate of risk but maintained its findings and recommendations, noting that it will continue to review new and relevant data.

Dr. Taylor reported having no disclosures.

SOURCE: Taylor GB et al. SGS 2018, Oral Poster 19 .


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